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How I got my job and where I'm going

Video transcript
So I went to the University of Pennsylvania for undergrad and studied bioengineering. I was premed and very intense. But it was through that process that you know, you know for medical school they wanna see that you've done research, so I worked as a breast cancer research assistant for many of the years I was in college. And in the process of sitting down with breast cancer patients, 100s of them over three years, I realized I didn't care so much about their biology as their you know psychology and their emotional pain. And so I basically knew okay I'm not gonna do medical school. (laughing) My parents weren't happy about that, but afterwards you know, from being a breast cancer researcher, a lot of my skillset was in data analysis, like analyzing data. And where that landed me was at MDRC. So MDRC is a social policy research firm, and what that means is, we basically look at really large nationwide programs funded by the government or like the Gates Foundation, and we look at you know how these programs are helping low income families and individuals across the nation. So for example, you know if we have a student in a community college who wants to get into a four-year college, and if they go through this program that we've set up, does it actually help them get to four-year college? And I was analyzing data to see if these programs actually worked at scale. And I did that for about three years, and while it was really interesting I think to work at that level and also to understand data and quantitative research, I felt something was really missing. And it sort of reminded me of the days when I was doing breast cancer research, right, this human element, this connecting with people, talking to people. And I didn't know where to find that. I took a little detour at one point where I worked and then went to school after work to try to get a psychology post-bacc because I thought I wanted to do a psych grad degree. But that also turned out to be very quantitative, very data-driven, which is not to say data isn't important. Data is important, but I felt that it was only one half of the circle, and that the other circle was about humans and emotions and connections. So I think I sort of, I still remember the moment where I decided not to do a psychology PhD, and I was standing on the platform in New York, and it just felt like my life was crashing down around me and I didn't know what to do next. But I felt like the universe sort of answers me in really interesting ways, and out of the blue, my coworker says, you should check out this you know coworking, learning, space in Brooklyn, called it was called Brooklyn Brainery. And I was like, I was you know I was so in the pits and so desperate I think I said okay I'll try anything. Because you know they had classes like how to make kimchi and things like that, I was like okay. And I signed up for this class called The Design Gym. (laughing) And I thought it was designing gyms for kids because I, I don't know why, I was like I'll take this weeklong, this weekend long course. And I took it and it changed my life. And it was essentially teaching design thinking and how to solve problems with design thinking, which started first and foremost with talking to humans and empathy. And I was hooked. I knew that this was something that I wanted to learn more about. So during the day I would essentially go to my job as a data analyst, and you know it was me and my data sets in a room, and then on nights and weekends, I took every course I could and did every project I could with this community. And it was talking to people, it was facilitating design spreads, it was going to hackathons, and just really learning what it meant to connect with humans and hear their stories and then create something from that. And then, a good friend that I actually am still in contact with sent you know from this community, this design community, she sent along an email, and you know just very casual like oh hey, there's an opening out in San Francisco for this fellowship that's applying design thinking to poverty. And I was like, oh, that sounds perfect. (laughing) Because you know by day I was using data to solve issues in poverty, and by night I was using design thinking to solve problems. So I applied, it was a very arduous process because learning the skill of how to do a resume and how to you know do cover letters and answer all these questions and prepare for behavioral interviews, like it's a lot, it's a lot of work. But it paid off. I was selected as one of the nine participants. And really without a thought, I just moved across the country. (laughing) And in retrospect, I think it was a little crazy to think that you know I didn't second guess it and I just moved, but I think it was the first time in my life that I had felt so alive, and felt so connected to something that you know I didn't even think twice about it. So I moved across the country, and started as a problem-solver as they called us at Tipping Point. And the sixth month fellowship was called T Lab, applying design thinking to poverty issues here in the San Francisco Bay Area. So when I started the fellowship, I was very excited, but then pretty much on day one, I became a shell of myself. Like those who know me know I'm energetic and outgoing and bubbly and passionate, but the first day at this fellowship, I just, I was so quiet, I would like shrunk into myself. And it was imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is where you feel like you don't belong somewhere, that you're not good enough to be doing something, even if you've been chosen to do it. And I think it pretty much within the first few days, my friends sensed that I was being drawn into imposter syndrome, and they really encouraged me to reach back out to my therapist in New York and I'm really glad they did. Because she helps me bit by bit move through it, which is not to say that the entire six months was just you know rainbows and cupcakes. I still struggle. There were moments I had where I broke through and I could focus on the problem at hand, and I really felt like I contributed and created something, but the six months was so hard to really I think come into my own and own that I had something valuable to bring to the table. Because I think after T Lab, you know I was still, the imposter syndrome was still there, you know. Six months my therapist helped me through it and I was pushing through it in some ways, but you know I still didn't know like was I cut out to be a designer? Can I actually do this? Am I enough? But you know the impact that we had made for these families and seeing the power of that, I couldn't, I couldn't go back to a former life. I knew I had to move forward. So for the next year, I call my creative sabbatical, I took a leap. I was on unemployment which gave me a safety net. I also had a little bit of money saved up. And so I decided that I need a portfolio, and the way to build a portfolio is actually do projects. So I started asking people like hey, do you know any projects that need a designer? You know I'll work for free. And they you know, through one of the people I knew, she connected me with this one women who needed a designer. I started working on that project, and then while I was working on that project at a cafe, lo and behold a guy comes up to me and is like, hey, are you a designer? You're working with Post-its and stuff. And I was like yeah, and then another project landed in my lap. So it was really beautiful I think to see life work out in a way. So I you know I was working on these two projects for free, and then eventually they started paying me because they liked what they were seeing. And that also helped me build my confidence, and had a portfolio finally. I had three projects in my portfolio, including you know the fellowship that I had done. And I started applying for jobs, and AppDirect actually reached out to me. They're enterprise software startup. They reached out to me, and I had a great conversation with my manager at the time. And then suddenly I was a product designer. So for a product designer, researcher, there's sort of two paths that you can take as you move along in your career. One is the managerial path, you know you, if you're someone who loves to work with other people, help others grow and lead a team, those people tend to go down the manager path. But if you're someone who really wants to stay designing and creating and executing, then you go down the IC path or the individual contributor path, and you're essentially a designer on a team, but with a really deep knowledge and deep skillset.